In the early 1900s, George Washington’s face appeared in a wide array of advertising and packaging—from the expected to the unusual. For example, an advertisement for the clothing brand Hero Cottons features Washington on horseback as the hero of the American Revolution.
On the other hand, Improved Washington Garters uses Washington’s name and face alongside the American flag. The tagline plays off the familiar quote: “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Similarly, Washington’s bust frequented cigar wrappers, box labels, and miscellaneous smoking accessories made in other countries.
The goal of advertising is to persuade, and the methods employed can themselves reflect a place in history, as we seek to infer why iconography of George Washington was used in these situations. Washington was a popular figure who represented trustworthiness and integrity; using his image gave the product a sense of legitimacy. The inclusion of cherries and an ax also evokes familiarity, as many Americans were familiar with the fable of George Washington and the cherry tree.
One printed advertisement shaped like an ax channeled the cherry tree myth, using George Washington’s face accompanied by the caption, “‘I cannot tell a lie.’ Kinney Bros. Cigarettes are the best.” Interestingly, the majority of these advertisements and packages portray Washington like Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of the first president, whereas a minority of the collection illustrates Washington as a war hero.